Reagan International Airport (DCA) via Don DeBold
Reagan International Airport (DCA) via Don DeBold

Different destinations have decidedly different crowds, and even considering the uptick in chummer tourism to the nation’s capitol, if you’re flying into Washington’s busy DCA, chances are it’s for work. But whether you’re here for your job, a family vacation, or just a long layover, if you have at least 3 hours to spare check out these sights along a historic 3 to 9 mile long loop.

The 9-mile loop

For the experienced jogger/city hiker, do the full nine miles by heading north out of DCA airport. Connect to the Mt. Vernon trail at Gravity Point Park, cross 14th Street Bridge, and then follow signs for the Jefferson Memorial.

The 3 mile time saver

If you’re short on time, you can reduce the loop to three miles while still hitting all the highlights. For the three mile loop, take an Uber from the airport directly to the the National Mall and pick up the 9 mile route beginning at the Jefferson Memorial. Uber is a great way to get around DC, and unlike some other US cities, Uber can drop off and pick up at any of Washington DC’s airports.

Jefferson Memorial via Brett
Jefferson Memorial via Brett

Hit the highlights

After basking contemplatively in the Greek-inspired rotunda dedicated to the man whose ideas formed the Declaration of Independance, continue on to the Washington monument. This giant obelisk dominates the fields of grass that surround it. Don’t stay too long — there’s no shade and it gets hot. If you have time, grab free same-day tickets from the Washington Monument Lodge on 15th street for a guided tour and elevator ride up to a grand view.

Washington Monument via m01229
Washington Monument via m01229

From the Washington Monument, head straight down the side of the long Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. On a cloudy day, being right by the water is nice, on a hot day I opt for the shade of the trees along the parallel path. Stop by the National WWII Memorial — find your state in the pillars — and continue on to the Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial is a crowd favorite, enjoy a Rocky moment racing up the steps that lead to the larger-than-life sculpture of the larger-than-life man. Your “audience” lounging on the steps comprised of school groups, families, and others might even cheer you on.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial via Kevin Burkett
Abraham Lincoln Memorial via Kevin Burkett

Next follow signs for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and jog along Maya Lin’s wall. Take a little break to read some of the names of the soldiers that were casualties in the war.

When you’re ready, backtrack towards the Lincoln Memorial, pass it, and follow signs for the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Because they are life-sized, and naturally composed, it is easy to imagine walking, marching, even jogging along with these men — but make sure you stay behind the rope.

Korean War Veterans Memorial via John H Gray.
Korean War Veterans Memorial via John H Gray.

Next, head east along Independence Ave, cross the street toward Tidal Basin, and spot two monolithic white granite boulders. Jog between them and circle around to enter the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Look across Tidal Basin for a spectacular view of the Jefferson Memorial and ponder how far you’ve come.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial via Daniel Lobo.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial via Daniel Lobo.

Exit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial toward the south and continue on to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, which is the final stop along our highlights tour. Enjoy the peaceful waterfall as you meander through this memorial, with sculptures strung out along a path following the timeline of FDR’s life and accomplishments. Start feeling pretty accomplished yourself, because you’re almost done.

Cool Down

If you’re only doing the three mile loop, head back to the Jefferson Memorial and you’re done! If you’re doing the full nine miles, turn right at the George Mason Memorial, and return over the 14th street Bridge. Turn left off the bridge, and follow Mount Vernon Trail southeast along the Potomac River. Take a breather in Gravity Point Park and watch the jets take off and land right above you before heading back to DCA.

— Laura Rowley


Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.


  1. Layovers are not fun but (when I have them) I do enjoy heading into the city for some fun. This is a nice quick tour of DC sites. Any suggestion on where to clean up (shower) before boarding the next flight? I am thinking the seatmates might appreciate a bit of freshening up. Also, DC has no airports; DC area airports, indeed.

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